Gender based violence (GBV) has been a long-standing challenge for Indian society. The recently released NFHS-5 reveals that 3 in every 10 women have faced GBV. Along with being a major law and order issue, GBV remains a giant barrier in realizing the health rights of women and girls in the country. It continues to deprive women and girls of bodily autonomy and interfere with their decision to healthcare access.
The challenge of GBV remains more pervasive in the northern and most populous state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), which goes to poll on 10th February. Last year, the National Commission for Women (NCW), an apex body for women’s rights, received close to 31000 complaints of crimes against women, out of which half of them were from UP (15,828). The body also received more than 4000 complaints of domestic violence from March to September 2020, most of them were from UP (968). Violation of the right to live with dignity and emotional abuse were the key reasons behind these complaints.
NFHS-5 shows some minor improvements made by the state in terms of protecting women from violence. In NFHS-4 state reported that 36.7% of married women experienced GBV while in NFHS-5 the number came down to 34.8%. In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) India Index 2021 prepared by NITI Aayog, the state achieved 50 marks compared to 41 in the 2020 index on SDG 5 – Gender Equality and Elimination of Violence Against Women. However, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data has shown Uttar Pradesh as the top state in terms of GBV.
GBV is an enormous public health challenge. Apart from physical injuries and pain it causes, GBV can give rise to depressive disorders and affect the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls. Increased consumption of tobacco/smoking, anxiety, depression, vaginal trauma, increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unintended pregnancies, miscarriage are some of the key mental and reproductive health related concerns that the victims of GBV often experience.
With high crime rates and a male dominated social system, the state of Uttar Pradesh has struggled to advance the reproductive and sexual rights of women and girls. The NFHS-5 data shows that 3.7% of married women face physical violence during pregnancy in the state. An independent study by a group of researchers in 2019 has shown that more than 1 in 3 women reported ever experiencing physical violence from their partners. The same study also shows that approximately 1 in 7 women reported that their most recent pregnancy was unintended, and 1% reported having an abortion in the past 2 years.
The all-India level data in NFHS-5 has highlighted that female sterilization remains the most common form of contraception (4 in 10 women) whereas only 1 in 10 men used condom. In Uttar Pradesh, 17% of women opted for sterilization while the rate for that of male sterilization was only 0.1. Such data points reflect the hold exercised by male partners and their families on women’s reproductive and sexual choices. This has a huge effect on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of women and girls.
Uttar Pradesh has over 6.98 crore women voters. Protecting women and girls from GBV and reinforcing their reproductive and sexual autonomy must be the top priority for the government. Improved health outcomes for women and girls will have a further impact on the other crucial economic and social indicators, resulting in the overall development of the state. Also, India being a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1996 (ICESR) and Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), governments remain under a legal obligation to advance the reproductive and sexual rights of women and girls.
Rishabh is a lawyer and writer working on issues of climate change, public health and social justice. He is a Co-founder at TA.
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